Report cards for Complete Streets in the U.S. are out, and Indianapolis is at the head of the class.
The National Complete Streets coalition reviewed all 130 Complete Streets policies and laws passed by communities in 2012, including Cleveland, which ranked a full, forty points below Indy.
Indianapolis earned particularly high marks in Implementation, which the Coalition describes as “assigning oversight of or regularly reporting on implementation (which) is critical to ensure the policy becomes practice.”
The top scorers also received notice for unambiguously explaining the need for Complete Streets. Clarity of language and a strong vision that spells out exactly how they will consider the needs of pedestrians, bicyclists, seniors, children, transit riders, and the disabled are vital. The more detail, the higher the score.
An important category was Performance Goals, such as how many miles of bike lanes or crosswalks are expected. “A” class cities have performance goals. Those needing improvement don’t.
The national group also marked down cities that include exceptions, like Cleveland’s $1 million cap, without iron-clad reasons for doing so.
By producing a report card, they hope cities considering Complete Streets have a model to follow. And that cities with policies will improve.
Dayton and its MPO, Miami Valley Regional Planning Commission, also scored well. Dayton’s MPO was ranked #1 and Columbus’ scored #2 among Metropolitan Planning Organizations. It earns the top rating because language about “Implementation Next Steps” and “Context Sensitivity” is specific. For example, Miami Valley’s “Context Sensitivity” statement reads:
“Designs for particular projects will be context sensitive, considering adjacent land uses and local needs and incorporating the most up-to-date, widely accepted design standards for the particular setting, traffic volume and speed and current and projected demand. Each project must be considered both separately and as part of a connected network to determine the level and type of treatment necessary for the street to be complete.”
Cleveland’s complete streets law earned zero points in the Context Sensitivity category. But that could change. Take the example of W. 65th Street. A major connector on the near west side is slated for a makeover that conforms to the city’s Complete and Green Streets law.
A context-sensitive approach asks a lot of questions like who uses the road, who lives there and is the design universal? Meaning, is the road as safe and accessible for cyclists and pedestrians as it is for vehicles. Context is king when assigning more, or slightly less, space in the roadway. It places community values in to the equation.
In the example of W. 65th, which connects major destinations for residents—the Zoo, the Towpath Trail, the Lakefront park—context is the many neighborhoods it links. A recently completed design could have been stronger if it widened the lens to how residents living up and down the corridor would use the road to get from place to place. Many stated they would like to bike on the road. But, the current proposal seems tone deaf to the context—a growing group of residents living adjacent to W. 65th who prefer to bike—by adding on-street parking in favor of a bike lane.
Other areas of improvement for Cleveland’s Complete and Green Streets law, according to the Coalition, is in a category called Jurisdiction. Cleveland scores low here because it doesn’t carve out a strong leadership position on how it will work with the county and the state to develop a set of design standards that both conforms but also pushes for flexibility in how ODOT interprets its federal guidelines.
Again, look at the example of W. 65th Street. The city and its consultant assumed that ODOT would not budge on its lane width. It resulted in a plan with a higher value for on-street parking and sharrows ahead of a bike lane.
Bike advocates like Old Brooklyn resident and urban designer Christopher Lohr were curious what alternatives to the W. 65th plan might look like. Lohr drew a series of conceptual designs and found there’s more than one way to fit a bike lane on W. 65th instead of a very expensive bike path.
A good compromise position shows a bike lane on the east side of the road and on-street parking on the west side. Two vehicle lanes would be 11-feet wide, which is in the approved range from the Federal Highway Administration.
Still, Lohr checked his assumptions against ODOT’s jurisdiction since they are involved in W. 65th. In his research, he came across Riverside Drive in Cincinnati. When the city resurfaced Riverside Drive, ODOT agreed to narrow lane widths to 11 feet. When the city wanted on-street parking on one side of the road and bike lanes on both sides, ODOT didn't stand in its way.
W. 65th, a minor arterial, is the same 40-ft. width as Riverside Drive, which is a U.S. Route, a classification that most traffic engineers presume ODOT would never allow less than 12-ft wide lanes.
Lohr agrees that, at this point, it’s a matter of will on the city’s part to include bike lanes on W. 65th.
Cincinnati doesn’t have a Complete Streets law, but it staked out its position, backed it up with FHWA’s design manual, and when consultants and traffic engineers told them that ODOT “never allows us to design less than 12-foot lanes,” they said, bullocks to that.
At this week's Complete and Green Streets public meeting, we have an opportunity to help Cleveland build a case for improving its landmark Complete and Green Streets ordinance. We can start by reading the National Complete Streets report card, and figuring out how to improve it: with clearer language, strong performance goals, and leadership on the vagaries of Jurisdiction, Context Sensitivity, and Design. The goal is to turn Cleveland’s well meaning law on paper in to one that ranks with the nation’s best in practice.